From 23 upto 30 august 2014: 77km
Cochabamba – La Paz – Death Road – Huarina
Leaving Sucre wasn´t easy, but leaving Cochabamba turns out to be impossible.
We got up at 6AM!!! to catch an early bus to La Paz but as we arrive at the terminal there are no busses: road blockade, the most liked and most effective way of political activity in Bolivia.
Luckily, this one is up only in daytime, so busses can run again the next night and the bus company promises a departure at 10PM.
For us around 14hrs waiting time which we spend pacing the mercado area again and again, sitting at the terminal, pacing the mercado area…and at least Bram did one useful thing: he got shaved by a real professional 🙂
Than at 10PM we really leave the city and can sleep a little bit until around five the first passengers start to leave the bus in small villages along the way. That is a nice part of the bolivian public transport, even the long distance bus drivers stop along the way to let people exit and enter. Around six we reach El Alto, the big suburb of La Paz which lies 500m higher and it´s a really impressive view: We ride along the rim of a big bowl which is filled with lights from bottom to top while the sky at the opposite side of the bowl starts to light up with the beginning sunrise.
Due to its location inside this bowl, there is only one more or less flat main street crossing the city, while all other ones go up the flanks to the sides.
Luckily, the place where we stay in La Paz is situated at this main street. It´s a Casa de Ciclistas and for us a new experience: An open house for cyclists, a very good possibility to meet people, to exchange stories and information and to feel at home in a strange city 🙂
After a few days of relaxing – and a copulous breakfast – we go to ride the Death Road: Famous well beyond the cyclists world, it falls from 4750m in the Andes to 1200m in the Yungas over 65km and crosses all five climate zones which exists in the world on this way. It´s an unpaved, narrow road with many sharp curves and a deep abyss to one side and has its name from times, when all traffic went over it, since there is rarely place for two cars passing each other, not to imagine trucks and busses. Nowadays there is a second paved road as alternative and the old one is used mainly by tourists.
As Cristian, the landlord of the CdC plans to ride it with some relatives of his wife at the same day, we can join them and so he drives us up in his jeep to La Cumbre, the starting point where we begin the long descent. The road is actually not that dangerous anymore these days, at least for us with some cycling experience on other unpaved and mountainous roads in Bolivia and without any other traffic besides some professionally organised cycling groups from La Paz.
But it´s still beautiful and it´s really impressive to watch the change of climate along the way: naked rocks at first, then more and more green, grass, trees and flowers. Air gets humid and fills with the scent of plants and it gets warmer and warmer until at the end we could have gone for a swim in the river in the Yungas without even shivering.
Instead we get back into the Jeep and enjoy the ride a second time backwards.
The last three days we spend exploring La Paz, which is quite a lovely city with a good ambiance, and go up to the thursday market in El Alto, supposedly the biggest open air market in the world, where we buy some spare chains for our bicycles. Then it´s time to say good-bye to Cristian, his Casa de Ciclistas and the people we spend our time here with and start cycling towards our next destination: Lago Titicaca – or Titi Khar´ka in Quechua meaning Rock of the Puma – and Peru…
Leaving the bowl of La Paz means hard work and is not as impressive as the arrival a few days earlier. Grey clouds are gathered and take away the panoramic view of the city and the majestic Illiminati, usually watching over the city.
Crossing El Alto together with its suburbs takes another hour, nearly as big as La Paz it stretches over 20km with traffic mayhem and black exhaust fumes.
When finally out of the urbanisaciones we can breathe again and the snow capped Cordillera Real provides us with a beautiful view.
We cycle on till rather late in the afternoon when we reach Huarina, and get the first glimpses of Lago Titicaca. Here we will have to choose between going to Copacabana and the westside of the lake, or going to Puerto Acosta and the eastside (less touristic).
But seen the tardiness, we first have to get a hospedaje or something, camping is out of the question because there are houses all around and the soil is too wet. After an hour of searching and asking around, and obtaining 5 diffeent answers from 6 people we ask, we finally find the only hospedaje around, and are glad to be inside out of the wind and rain, who shall accompany us for the next 2 weeks…
From 12 upto 21 august 2014: 141km
Sucre – Cochabamba – Torotoro – Cochabamba
Leaving Sucre on a bicycle is easier said than done: the city only has one-way streets, which are very crowded, and – in our direction – go steep uphill.
After about 45min we are finally out of the city, have gained some 200m in altitude and have a nice view of Sucre lying behind us.
Than follows a series of long steep descents and climbs until we reach a big riverbed which we follow for the next two days. Right now, the river is almost dry but there are numerous villages along the way and normally the area seems to be very furtile.
Every few km a little green oasis turns up, gardens are rich with flowers and there are also advertising signs for “balnearios”, for sure refreshing in summer times (although maybe not near any fishing grounds).
When we decide to camp, we have cycled 77km and are rather tired. We enjoy the last sunrays and the warmth, and go to sleep happy but tired.
The next day brings us near to Aiquile, only 56km further. The road turned from paved to unpaved and bad in between and the weather from fine to rainy and cold. So we take the bus from Aiquile to Cochabamba and watch the outside pass by in fast forward: 5hrs instead of 5 days.
In Sucre we already realized that we have only three weeks visa time left and cancelled our plans to visit the Northeast of Bolivia. And now we have to think again. For going up all the way from Sucre to Cochabamba and than to La Paz (780km) by bicycle under this conditions, we´ll need almost all the visa time. Taking a bus gives us some free time and we avoid cycling the bad roads in bad weather. Easy decision 🙂
And we get to visit the Nationalpark Torotoro near Cochabamba, cycle the Death Road near La Paz and than leave Bolivia cycling along Lago Titicaca to Peru in a relaxed manner.
When arriving in Cochabamba, or Cocha as the locals call it, we struggle to find a hostal since this week-end is the Fiesta de la Virgen de Urkupina, and every room is taken.
After around two hours we finally find something, but the city is not to our liking at all. There is a strange atmosphere around and we don´t feel comfortable here. It reminds of Frankfurt am Main, the german financial capital: everybody has a reason to be there but nobody enjoys or likes it.
So the second day in the afternoon we pack our rucksacks and head to the bus terminal.
The main part of our luggage and our bicycles stay in Cochabamba, while we take the 6PM bus to Torotoro and arrive there five hours later in the dark.
The next morning we have to register to enter the national park, and get to hear that all excursions there are to be made with guides, it´s forbidden to walk around by ourselves – and that is what we would have liked.
Torotoro itself is even by bolivian standards a small and sleepy village but the surrounding Nationalpark offers some interesting parts and is famous for original dinosaur footprints.
We start our first tour to the Canyon de Vergel with Sylvia as our guide, a friendly young woman. It´s a five hour round trip and it takes us past a natural amphitheater, some dinosaur footprints, than to the lookout point for the Canyon (250m deep) and finally to the bottom of it, to a place called Vergel, where a waterfall comes down and – when weather is good – one can swim.
Than we have to go the same way back up and we are glad that the weather this day is more cloudy than sunny: Around 800 steep stairs make us warm enough 🙂
Back in the village rain starts and makes any other excursion impossible.
The next morning we get up rather early and go back to the tourist office. The second tour we want to do is a day trip by jeep and we hope to find some fellow travellers with the same idea to share costs for the jeep and the guide. Luckily, there are some and finally we are a group of six: a french and a german guy, two swiss women and us. Our first stopover of the day is the cave Umajalanta and equipped with helmets and headlamps we start the descent into it along a river which disappears in the depth of the cave as well.
At first it is rather high and wide, but soon it turns into a gymnastics lesson: climbing on rocks, descending from them, crawling through narrow spaces, even crawling on our stomach to get through small passages, rappeling down with ropes…
But the efforts are worth it. The caves are very beautiful: a lot of stalagmite and stalactite formations, different ´rooms´ as they call them: caverna del concierto, caverna del sombrero mexicana for example, a small lake and at the end there are even some small waterfalls that we go by on slippery stones.
After about 2 hours we finally see daylight again and wonder if there are easier routes as well or if this excursion is only offered for the fit and slim, like us 😉
The next part of the trip takes us up to 3800m and we have time to relax and talk a little bit during the ride.
Getting out of the car isn´t easy. Wind and a mix of rain and hail greet us as we start off the demanding three hour walking tour around rock formations and caverns.
This time without the shelter of a dark cave but with tremendous panoramic views, some of the best we had. We also see rocks in the shape of elephants, turtles, crocodiles, lizards and the caverns with the arched entrances are spectacular, amazing that mother nature can sculpture such things!
When we are back in Torotoro it´s still raining and we just grab some food at the mercado, let the day pass by in our memory again and finish the day tired but happy!
The next day there is another bill to pay: Muscle ache! Cycling is obviously different to climbing and walking and the smallest step now is painful. Luckily it´s the day we head back to Cochabamba or at least try to and, by the way, learn our third and last bolivian lesson: Never believe any departure times of micro(busse)s.
In the morning we buy tickets for the 10AM trip, but at a quarter to ten we are still the only two passengers and the micro won´t leave until there are at least twelve, what eventually is the case at 1PM.
Along the road the driver picks up even more people, so at a given point there are 18 adults and three children in the car, although it is only designed for 12 and it´s really impressive how everybody and everything (luggage) fits in…
We reach Cochabamba after a long and bumpy ride in the late afternoon and make a small calculation: All in all we spend around 1000Bols (~100Euro) for this trip including bus fares, the hostal, meals, the entrance fee and the guided tours. Doing the same with an agency from Cochabamba would have cost 150US$ per person. A good deal!
The last day then is an easy one. Still with aching muscles we just cycle a little bit the “Ciclovia” around town, do our laundry and buy a small gas stove for making some hot drinks in the morning when camping again. Food is a disappointment this day, we try Charque for the first time, the local dish which is some type of wiry meat, served with mais, potato, cheese and eggs; but don´t find it to our liking, as the city in general…
A small highlight in the afternoon turns up as we find some treats, sold in an unusual way but nonetheless tasty 🙂
From 30 july upto 12 august 2014: 158km
Laguna Blanca – Tupiza – Betanzos – Sucre
At Laguna Blanca we have two possibilities to go on. One is leaving Bolivia and enter Chile, the border is just 6km away, or trying to find a jeep which brought people to the border and returns empty and heads back inlands to Tupiza. We choose the second option and with a little help from the Hostal people we sit in the jeep at 10am and start the long ride of around 12hours to Tupiza.
Sitting in the warmth and watching the beauty outside passing by the window is a welcome change to the last 15 days and it´s also worth it. Landscape is the opposite of the Lagoon area. Instead of smooth and sandy it´s stony and rough, a lot of steep up and down on a narrow path and fast changing structures.
Mountains, meadows, vulanic areas, salt seas, canyons and lagoons – so many different things to watch and luckily, our driver is very experienced and patient and takes his time for the demanding route.
Twelve hours later we reach Tupiza in the dark, check into a Hostal recommended by Ronald, the driver, and fall asleep looking forward to waking up without freezing.
Tupiza, lying at 2900m, has a warm and mild climate 24/7, all year round 🙂
We stay here for almost a week and just relax and recover. As usual we try every food on the street and in the markets. We discover the delicious Api drink, made from red corn flour which is cooked up with water, spiced with cinnamon and clove and mixed with orange or lemon juice. Served hot and accompanied by Pastel con queso it´s a delicious and strengthening breakfast and we will have it daily as long as we are in town.
We also find an old woman who sells freshmade empanadas from her kitchen window. She greets us always with a big smile and when we are late, she puts two empanadas aside for us.
And we will never forget the taste of “Chicharron de Llama”, fried pieces of Lama meat with salt, garlic and other mysterious spices. Usually prepared and sold by elderly women on the street, Chicharron is a very common dish in Bolivia (also made from pork, chicken and beef) and there are always crowds of people sitting around these women. A small plate for 6 Bols (~60 eurocent), served with corn and eaten with fingers: Incredibly good and just perfect with a small dessert afterwards…
All in all it´s a lazy time. Tupiza, a middle-sized town, has a very laid-back atmosphere and is surrounded by a marvellous landscape of red mountains and rock formations. A little bit like a Wild West town and fitting in this atmosphere, the most offered tourist attraction is horseback riding.
We try it as well and although Bram gets the most lazy and slow horse of South America he doesn´t feel really comfortable so high above the ground and happily switches back to his aluminium horse as we leave town a few days later…
Another more or less voluntarily daily routine is to listen to the brass bands of Tupiza, which rehearses for the “Independance Day” parade on the 6th of August. They are very motivated, it´s possible to hear the trumpets and drums from every point in town and we will never again forget the tunes of the bolivian anthem 😉
When we leave, we first take the morning bus to Potosi (because we already did a part of the track when we went from Tarija to Potosi), have a last view on the poor Cerro Rico and start cycling in direction of Sucre.
We have a stopover in Betanzos, where we spend the “Independance Day” and watch the local parade: an endless snake of all local groups from school classes to the bomberos voluntarios. There are so many of them, that they can´t collect at one point, so the first group starts walking and at every corner an additional group will join in. Remember the “Snake”-game from the first generation of mobile phones, where the snake gets longer and longer and one has to find a way for moving without running into itself? The same game here…
Otherwise Betanzos is not really remarkable. Used to tourists, the locals don´t hesitate to double prices in a very obvious manner and are in general not very friendly. For the first and last time in Bolivia we feel uncomfortable and are glad to leave it behind the next day. Every village we come through this day is emptied out, except for the central hall where everybody is gathered for the Fiesta de la independencia.
The scenery we get served on the way is impressive as always, with magnificent panoramas and sometimes funny, sometimes political sideviews.
After about 60km we see Puente Mendez, the departemental border between Potosi and Chuquisaca. It´s a huge foot bridge over a river, and a stunning piece of architecture one wouldn´t expect in an otherwise deserted place. Who had this idea and, more important: who uses it since the road bridge runs a few meters further across the river?
However, once we passed the bridge it starts climbing, and sweat breaks out even more than before, because of the uphill and of the weather, it is incredibly hot today and it stays warm in the evening as well. We can stay outside the tent long after sunset and don´t need more than shorts and t-shirt for the night, what a change compared to 10 days ago…
When waking up in the morning, it is still rather warm, but cloudy. A little bit later wind comes up, temperature drops and it looks like a thunderstorm is on its way. A good motivation to move on fast and reach Sucre before the rain comes, even the last 4km steep uphill at the entrance of town don´t slow us down 🙂
The city itself welcomes us with a busy but friendly atmosphere. Narrow streets, small footwalks – street sellers and pedestrians deviate onto the street and mix with cars, taxis, busses and micros. It´s overly crowded but it works, everybody is moving and no accidents happen.
To ensure the mobility, the Guardia Municipal has a special way: Big and really, really sticky stickers for all wrong parked vehicules. One time we saw a couple who had one on their rental car and they were looking really desperate as they tried to scratch off bit after bit from the front window.
We find a small Hostal at the backside of the Mercado Central (as usual our main source for meals, refreshments and fruit salads) and stay for four days.
Every travel guide decribes Sucre as the “white and most beautiful city of Bolivia” and although there are some big, white colonial buildings in the central district, for us the main feature seems to be the endless up and down of the streets, like a smaller version of San Francisco.
There are also lots of churches, some of them with accessible roofs and nice 360° views over town if one is not afraid to climb them:
From high above the central district looks quite nice with many green plazas and parks.
Visiting these parks is equally exciting. Sun shines, people walk around or read on the lawns, children have the choice between several kinds of rides, one can climb the little brother of the Tour d´Eifel and of course all kind of refreshments are available.
Godd times for everybody, including the packs of dogs, straying around and waiting for leftovers 🙂